The European Union addresses rule of law issues: Hungary is center stage

Interestingly, it was The Irish Times that first got wind of the news that Vivien Reding, European Commission Vice-President responsible for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship, will announce a new mechanism to make it easier for the EU to deal with countries whose governments repeatedly abuse its judicial and legal framework and thereby threaten the rule of law in member states of the European Union. It is no secret that one of these countries is Hungary; the other is Romania. In Hungary, the Orbán government threatened the independence of the courts in addition to limiting freedom of expression. In Romania, Victor Ponta wanted to abolish the Constitutional Court altogether.

We knew, at least since José Manuel Barroso’s “state of the union” speech last fall, that the Commission was working on some kind of mechanism that would close the gap between repeated infringement procedures and the invocation of Article 7 of the Treaty of the European Union. Article 7 states that in case of serious and persistent breach “the Council, acting by a qualified  majority, may decide to suspend certain of the rights deriving from the application of the Treaties to the Member State in question, including the voting rights of the representative of the government of that Member State in the Council.” This is the most powerful weapon the EU has in its arsenal, but it has never been invoked because it is considered to be far too harsh. Leaders of the “rogue states” know that they will never face the threat inherent in Article 7. Accordingly, EU officials have pointed out that they either have to break the taboo concerning Article 7 or have to come up with alternative measures. Vivien Reding in the presence of President Barroso and Cecilia Malmström, Commissioner of Home Affairs, announced such an “alternative measure,” a mechanism that would close the gap between the lengthy and most of the time ineffectual infringement proceedings and the draconian but never used Article 7.

At first glance, the measures outlined by Vivien Reding seemed toothless to me. I was especially disappointed when I read about the “dialogue” the Commission will conduct with the government of any rogue member state. I recalled the endless dialogues between Brussels and Viktor Orbán that led nowhere while the Hungarian prime minister danced his peacock dance. But then I discovered a sentence that might give us hope. Reding said that “the Commission, as guardian of the EU treaties, also had to become the guardian of the rule of law in the Union.” They envisage an extension of the Commission’s competence.

The Commission will not deal with individual cases or miscarriages of justice, only with “systemic threats” to EU values. That is, a distinction will be drawn between individual infringements that don’t threaten the fundamental democratic structure of the state and grave, all-embracing changes that affect the entire body politic. As we know, in the last four years the Hungarian government fundamentally changed the whole “system.” In fact, Orbán only a few weeks ago admitted that the system that exists now is fundamentally different from what Hungary had prior to 2010. Indeed. Then Hungary was a democracy. Today it is not.

The photo Napi Gazdaság used for its article on the  Brussels's move against rogue states

The photo napi.hu used for its article on Brussels’ move against rogue states

How does the European Commission propose to deal with systemic threats to democracy? As a first step, it will collect evidence of “a systemic threat to the rule of law.” If such an assessment is made, “it will initiate a dialogue” by sending a “rule of law opinion” to the government in question. At that point the member state will have an opportunity to respond. In the second stage, “unless the matter has already been resolved, the Commission issues a ‘rule of law recommendation’ to the country concerned.” At this point the country will be given a fixed length of time in which to remedy the situation. These recommendations, unlike the “rule of law opinions,” will be made public. If the issue is not satisfactorily resolved, “the Commission can resort to one of the mechanisms set out in Article 7 of the EU treaty.” Whether this new three-tiered system ends up being as ineffectual as the former procedure remains to be seen.

The Hungarian media is in no hurry to report on this particular bit of news. Only two Internet sites published something on Vivien Reding’s announcement: Index and napi.hu. Both point out that the announcement is the consequence of the European Union’s endless and mostly fruitless struggles with Viktor Orbán’s systemic attack on the rule of law. Index specifically mentions Rui Tavares’s suggestion that the EU establish a new supervisory Copenhagen mechanism assessing member states’ compliance with the rule of law, fundamental rights and democracy. As you can see, the Copenhagen suggestion was not included in the proposal. Instead, the Commission itself assumed the role. Whether this is a better solution or not, I cannot determine.

In any case, the European Union made the first move. Of course, it will be many months before the new mechanism is in place, but I think that this time the Commission means business. Reding even announced “the need for an EU Minister for Justice taking the helm at a central level, giving EU justice policy a face and, of course, held accountable to the European parliament.”

Unfortunately, the European Union as it functions today is not a viable entity. Just as the Articles of Confederation turned out to be unworkable and had to be replaced by the Constitution of the United States of America. The European Union should realize that without a stronger framework, it will remain a toothless giant bogged down in intra-state struggles and endless bureaucratic wranglings.

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Rablok Nelkul Legy Boldog Magyar
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Rablok Nelkul Legy Boldog Magyar

Finally, a preemptive regime change can be created by the EU community from outside.

The ordinary Hungarians received help from the EU against their mega thieves political class.

I hope that most honest Hungarians will greet this.

HiBoM
Guest

How on earth can Index be considered “close to Fidesz?” Only by people who don’t read it or by those fundamentalists who regard any article that criticises the opposition in any way meaning Index is pro Orban. Sorry, rant over.

Ki Olvas Helyesen?
Guest

Who can read in Hungary?
Who can understand a newspaper article?
http://mno.hu/magyar_nemzet_belfoldi_hirei/gyurcsany-ferenc-eroszakot-vizional-1215406#comments
It is clear from the comments that only few people advanced beyond the headline, and understood this twisted MNO article.
The picture is very very sad.
Where is Akos Kertesz to write about it?

qaz
Guest
@ Ms. Balogh: “Unfortunately, the European Union as it functions today is not a viable entity. Just as the Articles of Confederation turned out to be unworkable and had to be replaced by the Constitution of the United States of America. The European Union should realize that without a stronger framework, it will remain a toothless giant bogged down in intra-state struggles and endless bureaucratic wranglings.” And one may add that bureaucrats in Brussels, Luxembourg and Strasbourg are mainly concerned about self-preservation and increasing their self-importance (the latter could be seen as the corollary of the former). So they take on more tasks and increase staff to entrench themselves and become “indispensable.” The Commission does not have an impressive track record at dealing with thorny issues. It probably needs an enlightened Putin (as the original Cesar of ancient Rome) with what it takes to just do it. This (un)fortunately is not in the genes of the Commissioners, whose recruitment and mode of appointment, let’s not forget it, is precisely meant to ensure that they are bland and would not want to tackle serious problems (other than the proper shape and size of cucumbers or diameter of tomatoes) lest they offend… Read more »
Member

I am not a ‘bit optimistic. So, what if the government does not comply? What will they really do or can do? Are they going to invade Hungary? Will they kick Fidesz out? How many paragraphs had to be changed in the Basic Law (constitution) just to have Fidesz get around it, reword it and put it right back in. Jobbik does not care at all if Hungary separates from the EU, and Fidesz would just use any negative action from the EU as propaganda to “protect Hungary” such strengthening their position as the protectors of Hungary. Matolcsy will write an other book about the conspirators, and that would be that.
Whatever the EU will comes up with at this point is too late. Orban and his friends don’t care about the average citizens. THey only care about he votes, and they will get that with the anti-liberal, anti-EU propaganda. Orban and his friends are rich by now from the EU contracts, land deals, etc. and hold onto probably 80% of Hungary’s wealth. Now, they just have to make sure to cling onto power as under a new government they may have to answer, and they can loose everything.

qaz
Guest

Rablok Nelkul Legy Boldog Magyar :
Finally, a preemptive regime change can be created by the EU community from outside.
The ordinary Hungarians received help from the EU against their mega thieves political class.
I hope that most honest Hungarians will greet this.

Stop dreaming! The EU is not in the business of overthrowing member state governments. This is the role of the people and if they don’t do it, then they probably have the government they want and deserve. And isn’t it a reinforcement of the prevalent Hungarian syndrome of victimization to expect help from the outside?

The only worrying thing is that previous institutions, as we have seen until 2010, allowed a legal change of government while the current system would appear to prevent such change through legal means. This is a recipe for disaster as in such situation change comes through social unrest and violence. One of the main goals of liberal democracy with fair mechanisms in place for change of governments is precisely to avoid a situation where the people would exercise their inalienable right to revolt against tyranny. And then we have a revolution.

Penny Oswalt
Guest

Does this mean that the European Union will not let PM withdraw Hungary from the EU?
Someone assist me in understanding this article better.

Member
qaz :One of the main goals of liberal democracy with fair mechanisms in place for change of governments is precisely to avoid a situation where the people would exercise their inalienable right to revolt against tyranny. And then we have a revolution. I would argue that you can call Hungary “liberal democracy”. It is obvious that systematically all the checks and balances have been removed. For argument sake, let say North Korea suddenly introduced a two party system, do you think the election would of been fair? Of course Hungary is not North Korea. I am only saying that the PR machine and the fear does the trick. Orban installed fear into people. Teachers are loosing their job because they are MSZP supporters, small merchants are loosing their stores (tobacco shops) in favour of Fidesz supporters, farmers are loosing the access to lands that are leased out to Fidesz friends who have never touched an shovel in their lives, health benefits are withdrawn from people who do not support Fidesz initiatives, and the list goes on. I am sure many Hungarians are worried about how much Fidesz knows about them, and will they know if they cast there vote for… Read more »
Penny Oswalt
Guest

Does this mean that the European Union will not let PM withdraw Hungary from the EU?
Someone assist me in understanding this article better.
Parable of the apple tree:” It takes a mighty strong tug to pick the apples off the trees, and great balance at high altitudes to pick the highest apples on the tree. But it takes great wisdom to pick the apples off the ground and eat them”-Penny Oswalt

Otto
Guest
Guess, better than doing absolutely nothing. In reality, this is almost absolutely nothing. “Dialogue” — this is the point where any smart politician like Orban, Lazar, or Ponta or whoever would just lough his butt off and immediately stop reading any further, as the lawyers will take care of it if and when…so never gonna happen. Let’s just think for a second. A crazy dictator would come to power in an EU state and would attack another EU member state. “Nothing big”, he would just quickly occupy an area the size of a county, no bloodshed. Still, armed action. What would the EU do? Yes, dialogue, negotiations, summits, task forces, procedures, proceedings, lawsuits and whatnot. Or in short: nothing. They would hope the US would get tough and force that country to back-off. Commenter qaz sees it correctly, the EU is all about the cushy jobs. I have difficulty to link the info, but there was something I read about the UN recently. There is apparently a great problem at the headquarters in NY because no official wants to be assigned to the “field” (i.e. conflict countries where poor people live). They worked all their prior lives to get to… Read more »
tappanch
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Little election arithmetic.

Average voters / district = 76000

If the turnout is 60%, this means 45600 voters.
If the winner of the plurality district voting system gets 20,000 votes,
the “remainder” votes add up to 2.71 million.

([Party list votes + ethnic list votes] + ethnic Hungarian votes from Transylvania and Serbia + “remainder” votes) = 4.83 + 0.22 + 2.71 = 7.76

THerefore one can easily win an election district seat by 20 thousand votes, but it takes 83.4 thousand (= 7760/93) to win a “list vote”, and 20.9 thousand (= 7760/(93*4)) votes to get a [fidesznik] “ethnic” list vote.

tappanch
Guest

The March 11 count of the voters for the ethnic minority lists:

Gypsy: 11.2 thousand
German 8.1 thousand
Croatian 1.3 thousand

Source: (new location!)
http://valasztas.hu/hu/ogyv2014/766/766_5_3.html

The ethnic Hungarian registration to vote stands at 205.1.
At this pace, the number can reach 220-230 thousand by the March 22 deadline.

Romania 45.0%
e-landia 35.2%
Serbia 12.9%
All other countries 6.9%

Source: (new location!)
http://valasztas.hu/hu/ogyv2014/766/766_5_1.html

Guest

When it dawns on the Hungarians that they have given a criminal organisation unlimited power over their country it will be too late to do anything about it short of revolution, and revolutions in Hungary usually fail.

When it dawns on people in other EU member states what is going on in Hungary with well informed EU bureaucrats as passive lookers on, then the EU will loose its public support and fall apart. No use to stay as a member of an organization that does not do what it was created for.

tappanch
Guest

1.
We should not forget the 100 thousand [82 thousand a month ago] “new” citizen voters who registered at a Hungarian address, I bet in opposition-leaning districts, strategically.

see my note on February 8, 2014 at 5:48 pm | #4
http://www.hirado.hu/2014/02/06/nvi-elnok-szavazzanak-gyorsan-a-kulhoniak/

By the new election law, they do not have to appear at the voting booth of their address, they can vote in any border village for their nominal district.

2.
Here is another interesting tidbit.

If you vote in person, your ballot sheet must be validated (stamped) on the spot.
If you are an ethnic Hungarian in Romania or Serbia, your ballot sheet will not bear a validating stamp.

költő
Guest
tappanch : Little election arithmetic. Average voters / district = 76000 If the turnout is 60%, this means 45600 voters. If the winner of the plurality district voting system gets 20,000 votes, the “remainder” votes add up to 2.71 million. ([Party list votes + ethnic list votes] + ethnic Hungarian votes from Transylvania and Serbia + “remainder” votes) = 4.83 + 0.22 + 2.71 = 7.76 THerefore one can easily win an election district seat by 20 thousand votes, but it takes 83.4 thousand (= 7760/93) to win a “list vote”, and 20.9 thousand (= 7760/(93*4)) votes to get a [fidesznik] “ethnic” list vote. tappanch, let me rephrase: Given the current party structure, It takes about 20,000 votes to obtain one parliamentary seat from the districts, but it takes about 80,000 votes to obtain one seat from the party lists (of course, these new members of parliament will have the same one vote). Since the first-past-the-post based districts are gerrymandered to favor Fidesz, any vote for the losing candidates will automatically be lost (for the very wonkish readers: there will be a minor so-called “compensatory” mechanism but – in a perverse way – it will actually favor the winner of… Read more »
Gabor Simon rots in prison, the MSZP criminal
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Gabor Simon rots in prison, the MSZP criminal

Gabor Simon rots in prison, the MSZP criminal

The MSZP criminal, Simon was the 2. leader of MSZP, now he rots in a cell. Apart from thieving, corruption, stealing hundreds of millions he also had fake passports from Guinea-Bissau under a fake name. It is still not clear how he could have gotten so much money in many different accounts. This is just the tip of the iceberg he possibly hid billions in this way. The only logical explanation that this was the MSZP black money and he was only doing safekeeping.

The MSZP party could be considered a criminal organisation after so many of its leaders were revealed to be criminals.

Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)
Guest

There is a big catch, though: the Barroso II Commission is on its way out…

monguz
Guest
Gabor Simon rots in prison, the MSZP criminal : Gabor Simon rots in prison, the MSZP criminal The MSZP criminal, Simon was the 2. leader of MSZP, now he rots in a cell. Apart from thieving, corruption, stealing hundreds of millions he also had fake passports from Guinea-Bissau under a fake name. It is still not clear how he could have gotten so much money in many different accounts. This is just the tip of the iceberg he possibly hid billions in this way. The only logical explanation that this was the MSZP black money and he was only doing safekeeping. The MSZP party could be considered a criminal organisation after so many of its leaders were revealed to be criminals. Good morning! Another day at Feri Kumin’s office. And campaign periods are pretty busy times, aren’t they? MSZP is already a “criminal organization” under the current Basic Law. Please check the amendments, it is clearly there. (hint: Article U of chapter titled Alapvetés) I don’t think there is any such constitution in the world, but we have it, so MSZP can, legally, be shut down at any time, it will surely be constitutional. (Plus we have all the fidesznik… Read more »
whoever
Guest
I, like many others, have benefitted from Hungary being in the EU – not from multi-million kickbacks, but from ease of travel, work visas, residency conditions etc. But reading all this, combined with the ongoing situation in Ukraine, I wonder about the EU’s expansionism. If the EU was engaging in firm expansionism, then that is one thing; prepared to enforce a particular model of liberal democracy and ensure that all countries with EU aspirations have adherence to that model at a popular, grounded level. However, what we have here is a case of ungrounded expansionism, whereby cracks are papered over and problems with education and participation are ignored in the interests of quick accession. At the very least, the EU 10 accession countries should have spent ~10 years in an ‘airlock’ before being granted access to the rest of the ship, to illustrate that democratic habits were being adopted and that societal dialogue was possible. The problem now is that they are totally in, most of them (with partial exceptions of Poland, Czech Republic and Slovenia) are on a sliding scale of corruption/incompetency. The financial crisis has also sapped much of the existing EU’s commitments to more abstract details relating… Read more »
whoever
Guest

I should also add Estonia to that list of (partially) successful new EU member states. The point is that over time, the fortunes of these 4 countries is set to increasingly diverge from that of the other 6. The continuation of a lack of ongoing capital investment will propel countries in different directions.

Paul
Guest

A little OT:

“Unfortunately, the European Union as it functions today is not a viable entity. Just as the Articles of Confederation turned out to be unworkable and had to be replaced by the Constitution of the United States of America. The European Union should realize that without a stronger framework, it will remain a toothless giant bogged down in intra-state struggles and endless bureaucratic wranglings.”

An interesting (and rather damning) view of the EU from the other side of the Atlantic. It’s always beneficial to see ourselves through the eyes of others – if a little discouraging!.

I had (still have) high hopes for the EU, so I hope that it can reform itself into something more functional and useful. But if it has to take the US route (i.e. moving more towards a United States of Europe), too many countries (like the UK) will opt out altogether, and the chance of a unified Europe will be lost for a long time.

Egy Magyar Gondolkodo
Guest
Egy Magyar Gondolkodo

Jean P :
When it dawns on the Hungarians that they have given a criminal organisation unlimited power over their country it will be too late to do anything about it short of revolution, and revolutions in Hungary usually fail.

Totally agreed.
Just let us spread these thoughts.

cicvarek2
Guest

Egy Magyar Gondolkodo :

Jean P :
When it dawns on the Hungarians that they have given a criminal organisation unlimited power over their country it will be too late to do anything about it short of revolution, and revolutions in Hungary usually fail.

Totally agreed.
Just let us spread these thoughts.

Here is the thing. People like it this way. They know Fidesz is corrupt, they have no illusions.

But they still prefer to be ruled by Fidesz and even sucked dry by the fideszniks than ruled by the communists.

(In rural areas this is not a joke, anybody leftist is still seriously called a communist).

Nobody will revolt. You misunderstand the average people, because you do not meet them.

The election system now depends on rural people (effectively those living outside of Budapest) and they like it this way.

Of course, like all Hungarians, they too, love to complain, but that’s another issue, but they still like Fidesz and the world it created. The Hungarian is an “Eastern” culture, according to all recent cultural research/polls, Hungarians seem much closer culturally to Azerbaijanians, Bosnians, Georgians than to Slovaks, let alone to the Baltic people. Orban is catering to this majority.

Get used to it.

Max
Guest

OT: on 15 February, we discussed the looming memoirs of Helga Wiedermann, former chef de cabinet of central bank governor Matolcsy.

And indeed, even PM Orbán attended the launch of the memoirs on Tuesday. Matolcsy boasted at the event that the memoirs provide a true account of the country’s economic freedom fight.

It was only a couple of hours later when the political scandal erupted: Wiedermann claims in the book that Matolcsy had leaked the start of the talks with the IMF during a business lunch to Goldman Sachs before its official announcement….

The deeply embarrassed central bank has now published a statement, claiming that Widermann’s memoirs is in fact a (science?) fiction:

http://www.mnb.hu/Sajtoszoba/mnbhu_pressreleases/mnbhu_pressreleases_2014/mnbhu_sajtokozlemeny_20140313_1027

An incredible story indeed, albeit not really surprising. I find it extremely difficult though to imagine a similar surreal story / scandal erupting at Bundesbank or at the Bank of England.

petofi
Guest
“When it dawns on the Hungarians that they have given a criminal organisation unlimited power over their country…” People keep missing the point: the problem, essentially, is deeply-rooted in the national character, or predilection, to finesse situations. This was particularly true in communist times when Hungary was, indeed, known as the ‘happiest barrack’ in the communist sphere. Other countries marveled at the small-scale capitalism and the degree of liberty the Soviet papa afforded its (favorite) child. And Hungarians revelled in their ‘cleverness’ at getting away with so many things other communists countries could not. The problem now is that ‘finesse’ loses its efficacy in the harsh reality of Capitalism–you either produce and compete or you’re fried. Hungarians did not care for the loss of their wiggle-room. Hence the present-day flight from the reality of the 21st century, and Fidesz’ s headlong rush into the comforts of bygone days. Of course, the demons have to be explained as ‘jews’, ‘multinationals’, ‘foreign banks’ (same as ‘jews’) who seek to soil the spotless Hungarian soul. This alone may explain the great allure of Fidesz to the average Hungarian, and the absolute helplessness of the opposition to fight it. Personally, I have come to… Read more »
Mándoki
Guest
Max: c’mon, there is no scandal. You read it as did some other people. But these people have no relevance in reality. And we all knew even 5 years ago that in a normal country Matolcsy would have been committed to an insane asylum long ago. The majority will not know about this incident, however. But even if they knew they would not understand it. I do not think more 5,000-10,000 people could understand its significance even if you explained to them. People are way past these stories. They like reality show-like stuff like Simon and Zuschlag. “F***ng commies, nothing changes.” Other than those they value utility price cuts and such simple, blunt matters. Like showing that you are powerful: that you would stand up to the banks, the West, the IMF who are hell-bent on hurting Hungarians. The Left does not exude this kind of power, people will simply not believe that they are capable or willing to protect Hungary from dangers. Szonda Ipsos shows that Jobbik has been on a roll (it’s for real), and Fidesz also increased its popularity (though not by much) since last month. The Left stagnated yet again. The Left still has probably a… Read more »
kommentelo
Guest
Some postings of the blog from 4 years ago: http://hungarianspectrum.org/2010/04/12/the-morning-after-the-hungarian-elections/#comments http://hungarianspectrum.org/2010/04/13/hungarian-election-results-and-how-from-here/#comments It turns out some commenters were here several years ago as well, like the commenter Paul and “whoever”. The commenter known as “Paul” wrote comments 4 years ago such as: Paul : as the results sink in, attention turns to the second round. if the socialists really want to stop fidesz from getting a 2/3 majority, they would withdraw from any constituencies where they came in 3rd place, and advise their supporters there to vote for jobbik. in these places, (Ózd, Sajószentpéter, Tiszavasvári, Heves in particular) the mszp can either help fidesz get their 2/3 majority (by standing), or help jobbik get a few extra seats (by withdrawing). in areas where mszp does not have a realistic chance of winning, its a bitter choice for them indeed. at this stage it seems most likely that mszp WILL contest these seats, and thereby help fidesz to get its supermajority. and Paul : according to the current situation, fidesz will win all these seats, unless mszp withdraws – in which case fidesz may lose some to jobbik, and miss the supermajority. “an extremist and anti-democratic party” yes we have all heard… Read more »
Guest
One point seems also very important to me: I remember the days in Germany after the war (I was born in 1943) and the fact that we were really poor – but things got slowly better every year. So it took us (like the Brits, the French etc) around 45 years to get a really nice standard of living – and from personal experience I know that it was much better than in the Eastern block. And suddenly things changed and all those Easterners wanted (obviously) the same nice things that we were used to in the West – but how can you progress economically so fast without problems? In a way this reminds me of a lottery winner who suddenly has millions to spend – and often gets very unhappy and even loses everything again. This one-dimensional progress (only the economic side, but not the political in a way) is at least part of the problem. I still can’t understand that Hungarians sometimes say that Kadar times were better – do they really want back the “security” of Kadar, just helped by some material gains, cars, tv sets, mobile phones? A side remark: Of course here in the village… Read more »
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